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Life in North Idaho ...
Just in case
October 8, 2017
By Mike Ashby

The primary source of meat in the Ashby home in the 1950s and 60s was that which my dad would hunt and fish for. That included, but was not limited to, venison, duck, geese and, of course, fish. He was a consummate hunter, killing or catching every known species that lived or swam in Boundary County.

As a consequence of his hunting and fishing, we ate a lot of wild meat.

On rare occasion we would go out for a meal to a place called Park Tavern out on Deep Creek. Park Tavern had a good menu of food, but it was famous for serving all kinds of booze. The folks would drink dinner while I got to enjoy my choice of a hamburger or a hot roast beef sandwich, along with a milkshake.

After I finished my meal, I would generally get out to the creek and kill a couple days waiting for dad to take us home. Once at home, it was back to duck that had been cooked until petrified and venison that was flavored like shoe leather.

I learned early on that beef was preferable to most wild game. That is until dad shot his first and second bear.

It was the second bear that caused such a stir.

On a cold November morning we launched dad's new boat and motored a few miles down the Kootenai. We were supposed to be duck hunting, but dad had brought along his old 30-40 Krag rifle, “just in case.”

Rounding a curve in the river, we spotted a raft of ducks about a mile ahead of us. Dad turned back and beached the boat. With an admonition to me to stay put, he grabbed his shot gun and headed off on the back side of the levee to try and sneak up on the ducks.

With nothing better to do, I simply fell asleep.

I was awoken to a horrible amount of shooting, cursing and shouting for me to get my back side down to him with the rifle.

I am attempting to spare the reader’s sensibilities here; he used a slightly different term for my backside.

Anyhow, grabbing the Krag, I headed for all the commotion. I found my father at the base of a huge cottonwood. He was plinking away at an extremely large black bear that he had treed with that shot gun and double-ought buck.

The bear was not happy with all this, growling and snapping at limbs and leaves.

Reaching him with the rifle, dad threw down the shotgun, grasped the Krag and aimed up the tree.

It was at this point the bear decided to come back down. Dad fired one round at the thing and stepped back. The bear fell with a resound thud where he had been standing. I learned later that dad had fired about four rounds of double ought buck at that bear, with most of the rounds impacting the bear's head and simply bouncing off his skull.

There was some discussion as to why I had taken so long to arrive with the rifle, but that’s another story.

We finally got that bear home and hanging in dad’s garage. My mom was not one bit pleased with the idea that we had to eat “that nasty dang old bear’ for the next months. She made it clear that we did not ever need another bear to eat. When hunting season rolled around the next year, I recalled those words.

Once again, we were heading down the river to harvest whatever critter dared to cross out path. We had a few ducks and a goose or two by mid morning. I thought we were done for the day, but dad decided we would motor on down to Copeland.

It’s a lengthy ride from Copeland to Bonners Ferry, but he thought we had plenty of day light to make the trip and get home before dark.

We had just about made it to Copeland when dad spotted what he thought to be a large dog with a bird in its mouth swimming across the river in front of us. Getting closer, he determined that the dog was a very big black bear with a red tinge to his fur.

Once again, we had brought the Krag, “just in case.”

Dad opened up on that bear from about 100 yards out. I had thought the previous year's shooting was wild, but this shooting was way better. Since the bear was in motion and the boat was in motion, most of dad’s rounds just whacked the water around the bear.

Yelling at me to steer the dang boat straight (dang was not the word used), we got closer to that poor old bear where he was finally able to slay the thing. It was instantly obvious that we had killed a very big bear.

In fact, days later Paul Flinn, Boundary County’s resident game warden, would declare it was the biggest black bear ever taken in Boundary County.

We tied an anchor rope on the thing and headed for shore. When we got there, we found that the two of us could not get the bear up onto the beach. Dad headed off down a nearby county road to ask a friend of his to come help us. In a few minutes the friend and his son came back with dad. Between the four of us, we managed to get the bear up on the beach and gut it out.

Now the issue was how to get the carcass into the boat.

I was sent off to obtain two stout cottonwood limbs to use as a sort of ramp to roll the bear up on and into the boat. That worked all right, but when the bear fell into the boat we were left with three inches of freeboard.

We now had a 12 or 13 mile ride back upriver and it was growing dark.

Once again, providential care was given us. We made it back to the launch, but it was full dark when we got the boat, bear and us to home.

My mother pretty near had apoplexy when she saw that bear.

My dad was reminded that we still were eating the first dang bear and what in heck would we do with this one? Dang and heck were not the words she used.

Dad finally had to grind that entire nasty bear into sausage. The first time Mom tried to cook a bear steak the whole house stunk for a week.

That bear, finally, was the last one we would kill. But we still always took the Krag with us, “just in case.”
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